Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fort Rousseau Causeway, Matt Hunter and 'the Mermaid'

Fort Rousseau Causeway, Matt Hunter and 'the Mermaid'


Military construction in Sitka commenced at break-neck in September 1939 to ensure that the Alaskan coast would be defensible if and when the Japanese arrived.  The Sitka Naval Air Station, located on Japonski Island in Sitka Sound became operational. When the U.S. recaptured Attu and Kiska (in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska) in the summer of 1943, the U.S. Army decided to close its Sitka establishment (including Fort Rousseau).  On August 15, 1944, the Sitka Naval Operating Base on Japonski Island was decommissioned. 



On April 2, 2008, the Fort Rousseau Causeway State Historical Park was created.  6 tiny islands scattered off the end of the Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport form the Causeway.  The 8,100 foot causeway was mostly finished by the end of 1942, at a cost of approximately two million dollars.


In 2012 State Parks completed a management plan for the site.  Through Sitka Trail works, the State Parks and the community the work has begun. 


 
The Allen Marine Boat slowly nudged the shoreline and the walkway was dropped for our small group to scramble onto Makhnati Island.  The area lacks a dock for easier exploration.  We didn't have a dock, but we did bring along a 'Matt Hunter'. 



While only 31 years old, Hunter is gifted at wearing hats.  He is a school teacher at Mt. Edgecumbe High School, a state of Alaska-run public boarding school in Sitka.  The school was actually begun in a deserted WWII building.   He is a life-long Sitkan, Sitka Assembly Member and EMS volunteer.
I had met Matt during my time involved with Sitka Mountain Rescue.  If you get into a tough spot with nature (my hand is raised), you fail on your 50 foot snowboard jump, you meet Mr. Grizzly, etc., he is a great person to have nearby.  If you decide to visit the Causeway, Matt Hunter is beyond great.  He is a walking text book.  No, more like a walking Google. 




 My video inside the building above (Battery 292) 

Matt would take us into a number of buildings, including the impressive Battery 292.  This was the main headquarters building.  Matt would lead our 'tour' with details on how most of the rooms were used.

Would have been an ideal post for Halloween!

Hunter estimates that up to 8,000 soldiers, sailors and aviators were stationed in Sitka, along with a few hundred private contractors and a contingent of Marines.  This in a town of only 2,000.

 New Archangel Dancer, Angela McGraw, enjoying the "Dancer Explosives" sign


"The Mermaid"

He would even lead us to the "The Mermaid".  I had heard stories of her existence.  She actually does exist and spends her time under a disco ball.  The Causeway is cram full of history with some stories thrown in.  We all learned so much about the Causeway, Sitka on the brink of war, the many lives lost during the construction of this facility and that Matt, surprisingly, does not even teach history.    

28 comments:

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